|Musical Style: Blues Heavy Rock||Produced By: Jeff Scheetz|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: Jeff Scheetz|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 69:45|
Guitarist Jeff Scheetz has been around since the late eighties. Hitting the scene in 1988 with a seven song instrumental demo entitled Warp Speed, Jeff continued in an instrumental hard rock direction with the follow up releases Woodpecker Stomp (1990) and Dig! (1992). The artist regrouped five years later by putting together his first band to include a lead vocalist, Disengage, and recording the melodic rock of its debut Sign Of The Times. Returning to his instrumental guitar driven ways with Pawn Shop (1997), Jeff put out a Christmas album (Christmas… at last from 2000) before releasing Beggars, Rogues And Thieves, the 2003 debut of his new group Jeff Scheetz Band. The summer of 2008 finds Jeff Scheetz Band presenting with its sophomore outing Behind The Mask.
On Behind The Mask Jeff Scheetz Band stays true to its form by delivering a blend of blues, classic rock and hard rock mixed with the occasional funk and “jam band” flavoring. Fans of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan will find a lot to like here as will those into Glenn Kaiser Band, Rez Band, Die Happy and Red Sea. The influence of the previously referenced artists can be found in the albums heavier tracks, “The World” and “Behind The Mask”, in addition to the blues rocker “Welcome Home” and traditional blues of “Killin’ Time”. Mid-paced numbers “Like You Are Alive” and “Letter To Myself” also deserve mention as do quality instrumentals “Spiny Norman” and “Crazy Horse”. Rounding things out is the acoustic based “I’m Just Me” and the Elton John cover “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”.
Jeff Scheetz proves without a doubt that blues is his natural element, effectively adorning the full length of the album with his gritty and at times emotionally charged playing. The instrumental tendencies of the his past, of course, cannot help but make their presence felt, standing in support of those “jam band” influences in question on “Welcome Home”, “Behind The Mask” and “Letter To Myself”- three numbers featuring significant instrumental portions. The albums three instrumental pieces deserve mention as well.
Lead vocalist Matt Waddill proves a very fine talent with his smooth sounding – at times soulful – mid-ranged vocal approach. What I appreciate about Matt is how his style proves the right “fit” for the blues heavy musical direction taken here. Matt also stands out as quite the grooving bass player and rounds out the rhythm section with steady drummer Kent Burnham, who lent his timekeeping skills to Woodpecker Stomp. It must be noted that Jim Riley (Rascal Flatts) contributed the drum tracks to three of the albums pieces.
Production values literally breathe of clarity in allowing all the instrumentation – particularly the bass and lead guitar – to rise above the mix.
The high quality album artwork was handled by fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, who has worked with the likes of Nazareth, Thin Lizzy, Magnum and Asia.
The album opens to “Welcome Home”, a trademark heavy blues rocker dishing out a complementary touch of groove and one of those quirkily infectious hooks guaranteed to remain with you for some time. The song is also characterized by its instrumental propensity, allowing the band to exhibit its musicianship – including Scheetz’s gut level lead work – in no uncertain terms. The lyrics here are every bit as easy going as the music:
Kickin’ back on the beach with your toes in the sand
Or ridin’ down the road with your friends
Or playin’ round the world with the band
Doesn’t matter where you’ve been
It’s good to get back home
I’ve had a lot of good times
On the road
But nothin’ feels like there two words
“Behind The Mask” maintains the same quality. The song slowly flows ahead from the start, an untroubled environs prevailing until the rhythm guitar steps forward in hard rocking fashion. Upon reaching its laid back chorus, however, the albums title track tapers off as the rhythm guitar moves to a backseat in the mix. Another instrumentally driven piece, “Behind The Mask” breaks for a stunning two minute explosion of bluesy soloing from Scheetz.
The instrumental “Spiny Norman” arrives a bit too early for my taste. With half the albums first seventeen minutes instrumental, I cannot help but think this one could have been pushed back somewhat later in the track listing. Irregardless, it’s a very well done piece, alternating between faster, up-tempo passages and those heading in a more tapered – if not gritty – direction.
The six minute “Killin’ Time” can best be described as traditional blues (think Glenn Kaiser Band). The song gradually inches forward as a quietly played guitar decorates the backdrop, not gaining momentum until the rhythm guitar kicks in to drive a chorus bordering on the taciturn as a result of its relaxed delivery. “Killin’ Time” comes across bluesy in terms of both its musical and lyrical direction:
Well the seeds I’ve sown are ripe now
And the reaper’s drawing near
I have walked through the valley
There’s no evil left to fear, left to fear
Will the promise of tomorrow erase the pain of yesterday
Will the wind that brought me here, carry me away
Is everything I do just cast upon the tide
If that’s the case them I’m
I’m just killin’ time
The lead work here is straight from the Stevie Ray Vaughan school of soloing.
“Like You Are Alive” heads in quintessential blues heavy rock territory. What makes the song stand out is how it joins all the elements that make the album successful: mid-tempo paced but giving rise to the needed amount of blues edged energy, catchy chorus (shored up by a touch of rhythm guitar) and more of Scheetz’s fiery lead guitar.
The group injects some humor into “Be My Friend”, starting to a montage of monotonous messages on some unfortunate individual’s answering machine. Once the song gets underway, it proves one of the albums more upbeat numbers in intertwining things with a crisp acoustic guitar while adding some Latin flavorings in the process. The soloing – faster and more energetic this time around – matches the pace and feel of the music. A one sided friendship seems to be the subject matter to “Be My Friend”:
Well, I tell everyone I talk to that we’ve been friends for years
Chat about our childhood as I’m fightin’ back the tears
They say it’s funny that you never mentioned me before
I’ll write you a letter about it or maybe two
Or three or maybe four
Don’t you wanna be my friend
Oh, let’s be friends
Come on now be my friend.
Laid back blues rock heading in steadfast mid-tempo territory, “Letter To Myself” stands out with its groove flavored bass line and chorus on the determined side of things- the end result being a hint of soul imbued in the process. Another lengthy run of lead guitar is added to a song talking about making a break from the past:
I’m tradin’ up my future
Leavin’ this behind
So if you wanna hang with me
You’ve got to tow the line
No more empty cupboards
No more skippin’ rent
Saddle up your horses, there can be no argument
An acoustic guitar underlines the classy ballad “I’m Just Me” its extent. This one puts in place a heartfelt environs, allowing Matt Waddill to show off his smooth sounding, mid-ranged vocal capabilities. The song actually brings a slight but refreshing taste of the eighties: I can see any of the myriad of hair metal bands at the time recording “I’m Just Me” and being quite successful in the process.
“Crazy Horse”, the albums second instrumental, comes across a bit heavier in comparison to “Spiny Norman”. The guitar work (especially the leads) is steeped in the blues and brings to mind Glenn Kaiser at the top of his game. All the while a guitar riff as catchy as it gets sustains the song from front to back. Very well done.
Behind The Mask, unfortunately, gets a bit thin as it turns towards its second half. My overall impression is that the album, coming in at 14 tracks and nearly seventy minutes of music, is perhaps three or four songs too long. The upbeat classic rock of “Trippin’”, for instance, is far from bad but brings too much of a “sameness” quality when compared to much of the albums material. Likewise, the same can be said for the tempered “Hallelujah”. While I commend the band for the lyrical direction taken, the song (a very fine piece individually) struggles to hold its own when taken collectively- once more due to the “sameness” feel the album develops as it moves towards its conclusion.
It must be notes that between “Trippin’” and “Hallelujah” is a pointless acoustic instrumental entitled “B Marie” (all 1:25 of it). Next.
The Elton John cover “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” features one of the albums more notable melodies. The catchy hook delivered is quite refreshing, markedly in light of the slight triteness conveyed by Behind The Mask at this point. All in all, with its radio friendly feel and classic rock sensibilities, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” proves a complementary fit with the albums musical direction.
Closing things out is “The World”, a hook driven, groove flavored hard rocker that ranks with the albums stronger compositions. A hint of the eighties is exhibited by the song, reflected in its showy chorus in the which the rhythm guitar, satisfyingly, moves to the front of the mix. With its purposeful edge and heartfelt emotion, “The World” would do bands such as Die Happy and Red Sea proud.
The best way to summarize would be to state that the better songs on Behind The Mask are great. The problem, however, is that there is simply too much here in that 14 songs and close to seventy minutes of music can border on the trite- at least when taking into account the “sameness” quality some of the material here bring. I cannot help but think this would be the more cohesive product if it had been cut to its ten best songs (and adding ten more percentage points to the final score in the process). Still, fans of the blues, classic rock and hard rock would do themselves a favor by checking Behind The Mask out.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Welcome Home” (5:34), “Behind The Mask” (7:12), “Spiny Norman” (4:26), “Killin’ Time” (5:56), “Like You Are Alive” (5:13), “Be My Friend” (5:14), “Letter To Myself” (4:19), “I’m Just Me” (4:12), “Crazy Horse” (5:38), “Trippin’” (3:56), “B Marie” (1:25), “Hallelujah” (5:33), “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” (6:49), “The World” (4:19)
Jeff Scheetz – Guitars
Matt Waddill – Lead Vocals & Bass
Kent Burnham - Drums
Jim Riley - Drums